Authors: Barbara Devlin
Enter the Brethren
Cover Art by Lyndsey Lewellen
Copyright © 2012 Barbara C. Noyes
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This book is dedicated to my hero, my inspiration, and the love of my life, my husband Mike.
To my dear friend, talented author, and longtime critique partner, the late Judi McCoy. Judi believed in me long before I believed in myself. Her unwavering support and encouragement made me the writer I am today. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her, and I still expect her to call every Monday. How I miss Judi.
Table of Contents
My Lady, The Spy
The Most Unlikely Lady
One Knight Stand
The Year of Our Lord, 1307
WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE.
Arucard of Villiers shivered as he read the notice.
By papal decree, the Order of the Knights Templar had been banned, and Arucard, along with his four brother knights: Morgan, Demetrius, Aristide, and Geoffrey, was a hunted man.
“Alter course one point to westward, Pellier. Maintain heading nor’-nor’-west.” The deck and the tops were alive with activity, and at the wheel were his most able-bodied helmsmen, yet he could not shake the unease investing the whole of his frame.
“Aye, sir, one point to westward, heading nor’-nor’-west,” the quartermaster replied. “If I may, sir, where are we going?”
“We sail for England, where good King Edward II has outlawed torture.” Arucard gazed sternward at the four ships hoisted in his wake. “With our sails abroad, we should make it with our necks intact.”
“Do you think we will ever go home again, sir?”
“We have no home, Pellier.” Arucard sighed and crushed the parchment in his grasp. “Philip has conspired to steal our legacy, as well as our fortune, but, in regard to the latter, he will be sorely disappointed when he reaches our empty stores.”
“What makes you think the King will welcome us? Or do you plan to sail up the Thames and announce your presence, Captain? I fear we could be exchanging one noose for another.”
“Well, we have two ship holds filled with priceless treasure to belay that fate.”
Pellier scratched his temple. “We have five ships, sir.”
“And your point would be?” Arucard chuckled. “Worry not, old friend. We must hope that Edward is a sensible man.”
“You are a sly one, Cap’n.” The quartermaster smiled. “Yet, I would warn you. Do not let hope cloud your judgment.”
“Hope is a good thing, Pellier. Why so cynical? Have you previous dealings with the King of England?”
“No. But I know powerful men, and they often charge a high price for allegiance and support.”
“The booty resting in the other three ship holds ensures that we need no support, merely allegiance.”
“Can you really separate the two, sir?”
Arucard frowned and, for the first time, let doubt creep into his thoughts.
Had he chosen the right course?
Or was he leading his men into breakers?
“There is nothing certain in this life. But if we cannot live as free men, then we are already dead.”
“Aye, Cap’n. But what you consider freedom might be vastly different from that of the King.”
The quartermaster put his hands up, palms facing out, and laughed.
At that moment, Pellier descended the companion ladder, and Arucard tried, in vain, to ignore the hint of fear dancing a merry jig down his spine. Gazing sternward, he focused on the four ships in his wake. Each carried a brother knight, men he long considered family, as her captain. If Edward turned them away or, worse, took them captive, the blame would rest solely with Arucard.
As a Templar, he had been nothing more than a warrior knight. Yet, after the dissolution of their order, Arucard had been designated the leader of the outlaw mariners, much to his dismay. Seeking safe harbor in England had been his decision. If his grand plan failed, all in their haphazardly gathered brotherhood would suffer the consequences. Placing a hand over his heart, he lifted his chin.
“To freedom, my comrades. May the price be such that we are willing and able to pay.”
Revenge is a dish best served cold--or so the saying goes. Were she the meal, he would return to feast again and again. Young and fresh, with a body made for sin, she was the last thing he expected to find in Dalton Randolph’s cabin.
Trevor Reed Marshall, sixth Earl of Lockwood, hugged the shadows and gazed at his lovely prey as she bathed. Although he’d ravished his share of the fairer sex on numerous occasions, he couldn’t recall ever remaining for the cleanup. Of course, at the moment, there were many things that escaped him, because it was quite difficult to focus with a fully loaded cannon in his crotch.
This was the opening scene in the second act of the play that had begun two months ago, when Dalton made off with Trevor’s mistress. While men made sport of many things, guarded doxies were sacred territory subject to the rules of engagement. Such breach of polite decorum demanded Trevor respond in kind, which he was only too happy to do, given the ladybird in question. He had his story committed to memory, knew precisely what he was going to say, but he paused to enjoy the fortuitous entertainment.
Temptation personified, she lifted an arm and squeezed a wet cloth to her skin, then stood to scrub a shapely thigh, and Trevor could have cried. With silent thanks to young Randolph for his taste in doxies, Trevor emerged from his hiding place.
Slowly, very slowly, he smiled.
To err might be human, but getting even? Now that was divine.
“May I be of assistance, my dear? Wash your back, perhaps?”
The woman faced him and shrieked. Hunkering in the bath, her eyes were wide as saucers and just visible over the rim. Great heavens, had he not shaved that morning?
“W-who are you, and what d-do you want?” She cringed even lower. “Leave my chambers, at once, or I shall scream.”
Although the barrel of ale laced with laudanum he had delivered as a boon from their captain would keep the skeleton crew sleeping for hours, he did not wish to invite trouble, so he stopped, palms raised.
“Come now, dove, after what I just witnessed, you and I are already on intimate terms.”
“I beg your pardon?” Her voice was high-pitched, as a frightened child. Just as quick, she lobbed a bar of soap at his head, which he avoided with ease. “Get out, you blackguard. I swear Captain Randolph will tar your hide.”
“Will he, now?” Poor thing was not very convincing. “It might interest you to know that your benefactor is in port, partaking of Jamaican delights that rival your own. And I’d wager he will not return until tomorrow.”
“My benefactor?” The beauty peered at a towel draped on a chair that was just beyond her reach.
“One in the same.” Trevor snatched the towel. “And he indicated that you might be in need of a new guardian, after he lost a game of poker and incurred a few debts.”
She narrowed her stare. “You, sir, are lying.”
Oh, she was a charmer.
“How can you be so certain?” he asked as he sat in the chair. “Men bet their ladybirds all the time.”
“Perhaps, but Captain Randolph would never suggest such a ridiculous notion.”
“Really? And why is that?”
“Because--” Her confidence faltered before him.
“Because--what, my dear?”
“We are old friends.”
Resting elbows to knees, Trevor leaned forward. “I would like to be your friend, too.”
“You would?” She bit her lip. “Then you can start by handing me that towel and turning your back to me.”
“Not a chance.”
“Then you are not my friend.” She frowned. “Would you have me remain, forever, in the bath?”
“No, you may exit at any time.”
“Without benefit of clothing?” The demirep clucked her tongue. “To use your words, not a chance.”
With a chuckle and sincere appreciation for her moxie, he slapped a thigh. “Upon my word, but you are a spirited bit o’ flesh.”
“And you are too bold, sir.
“Call me Trevor. And how should I address you?”
“As I do not intend to keep company with you long enough to require such pleasantries, sir, there is no need to make you free with my name.”
“Ah, but you’re wrong, dove. I shall have you and your name before we dock in London.”
“When first hell freezes. And don’t call me dove.”
“I’ve seen longer odds and won the day, my dear. And as you deny me the use of your name, what choice have I?”
“Your choice is to leave this ship immediately.” The water splashed as she shifted. “Captain Randolph will return shortly, and he will have your head for this affront.”
“Any minute now, you shall see,” she said as she stared at the door. A few seconds ticked past as he allowed her a scarce second of false hope. “He is almost here.”
Again, Trevor laughed. “I think not, dove.”
“I know so.”
“You’re bluffing, and you’re not very good at it.”
“And you seem foolishly sure of yourself, sir.”
“Sure enough to know that my sire raised no fool, and we need to be on our way. So, should I help you from the bath?”
Confusion invested her delicate features, and just as Trevor stood, the doxy screamed.
“Help! Someone, please,
Glancing left, then right, he searched for means to cork the damsel in distress. Quickly, he settled on a solution. Draped at the foot of the captain’s bunk was a silk robe. Trevor drew the tie from the garment and stomped toward the ladybird. When she threw her hands up in a defensive posture, he bound her wrists.
“What are you doing?” She struggled in vain. “Let me go. Help--”
A discarded cravat muffled her protest.
“Sorry, dove, but I cannot risk further outburst.” Trevor knotted the yard-length of linen at the back of her neck. “Once we gain the safety of my ship, I will free you to rain any number of curses on my soul. Now, out of the tub.”
When the lady refused to comply with his request, only shook her head violently, he scooped her naked body into his arms, and the doxy kicked and squirmed.